Conference advice: Don’t prepare too much

Lots of companies hold internal and sometimes external events.

Some are meetings for half a dozen to a dozen senior executives on sustainability strategy or trends.

Others are for 50-100 managers on changing risk landscapes and operational expectations and best practice.

And some are for stakeholders, to show how the company is progresssing and to look for feedback.

Having organised, sat in on, and contributed to all three types, and many others, including probably over 100 conferences over the years, I do think there’s a fundamental point to remember for optimal success:

Don’t prepare too much.

By which I mean, don’t over-prepare.

Facts and figures are all well and good.

Stories are important and are largely what your audience remembers.

Images are vital, and if you must, the odd chart or diagram.

But too much of all or any of the above will be unhelpful.

Limited scripting and preparation for your internal or external events means you have have a much better discussion, and more challenges can be offered, if the audience feels the environment is a little less formal than too many structured presentations can make it.

I chair a lot of conferences and meetings. And the one thing I have learned from these (relevant to this post that is), is that too much preparation kills discussion.

Whenever I have taken part in conference calls or email conversations covering the themes of the discussion shortly to be held, and discussed the content in any depth, the panel or session we’ve then held has been much less interesting than in sessions where we haven’t done that kind of preparation.

If speakers know their topic, and limit their slides to 2-3 images or diagrams, and the moderators know what buttons to push, which questions to ask, the discussion can be informal, fun and most importantly, useful for attendees. It can even be memorable.

Large companies who host events about their corporate performance struggle to use this format.

Their events, which can be about fascinating subject matter, struggle to be as memorable as they might because of their format problems.

Too many suits presenting power point, no matter on what topic, dulls the memory and numbs the audience, often meaning questions in response are simply not as good.

This ‘system’ described above, of less power point and more interactivity, we’ve yet to implement properly at Ethical Corporation.

But it is most definitely on the way. We’re perhaps halfway there at best.

It’s time to start thinking about events from the perspective of the audience, and what they will recall later and enjoy on the day, rather than run events based on what you want to, or think you must, communicate.

There’s no point telling people things that they won’t remember. They can find the detail on the web.

Better to inspire them on a few key areas, than drown them in unmemorable information.

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